Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Two Dreamers in the Desert- A Mojave Tale

"Crossing the Mojave , Joe came upon a rare creek. Leaning over that flow he caught sight of  a varmint's approach . " Howdy", bowled Otto F. Brant, and he honed for Joe an easy grin. "Will ya share that juice?" Joe dipped his Stetson in assent. After the sun began to drop the two men edged beneath a footbridge for the night. They saw the moon lift over the stars and it was a disk radically bright as found nowhere on earth except for strays crossing the soundless stage.  Otto F. Brant began to tell his life's story to Joe ...
Their talk dwindled as the sky fell purple and by midnight their tales began to intersect around the campfire's corona.... Otto F. Brant offered Joe insight on the desert canon, he spoke of what pioneers practiced in that place the padres revered as the "City of Angels"....."
From the "The Legend of Zhao-An Epic Fable based on  a True Story" , unpublished novel by Soo-Yin Jue.

My Auntie Soo Yin wrote to me recently about my post in which I discuss how Jue Joe and Otto Brant could have met in Los Angeles through the intercession of Brant's  houseboy Wong Joe :
"Nice job on your theory of how Jue Joe and Otto Brant met each other.  You gave excellent analysis about the individuals and set them against a historical backdrop of social, political, and economic issues influencing the time period.  Very conceivable,..... There is a question in my mind, however, as to why Ah Gung kept saying that Jue Joe and Otto Brant met in the Mojave and hoboed together to Los Angeles."

Yes... we keep coming back to the "Mojave question"  in our family oral history. My grandfather always told the story that Otto and Jue Joe met in the Mojave and they "hoboed" together to Los Angeles.  For years I have discounted that story as most patently a myth.  When Jue Joe arrived in the San Fernando Valley  he was employed as a houseboy on a Chatsworth homestead .  Otto Brant had just formed his title insurance company in Los Angeles. It was impossible for them to have met in the Mojave and hoboed together back to Los Angeles ..... or maybe not .  Let me tell you a little Mojave tale in which we weave together some facts and some speculation .

In early 1894 we know that Jue Joe made a railroad trip back to Sacramento California from Chatsworth  to get a new certificate of identity required under the new anti-Chinese legislation or face possible deportation.
He had thrown away his first certificate of identity which he had obtained while working in St. Helena and needed a new duplicate one with a picture ID. Since the Sacramento immigration office held the documentation of his original certificate he had to make the journey to Sacramento. At the time there was a branch rail line to Burbank which connected to the main Southern Pacific rail line which stretched across the Mojave desert through the town of Lancaster over the Tehachipi mountains and on to Sacramento.

At the same time in 1894. Otto Brant's new title insurance company business had weathered a very rocky  first year. A nationwide Depression hit the Los Angeles area hard in 1893 just as Otto's business was getting started.  According to his son, David, ... "they really had a hard time of it there.  Then the terrible depression came along , and they were just about to fold up ... when some subdivider came in and gave them a big job of writing policies for this subdivision ... "

Meanwhile the town of Lancaster in the Mojave desert, originally a refueling and watering stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad as it crossed the desert had been booming and was unfazed by the 1893 depression.

"The area in which the city of Lancaster is now located, which is now known as the Antelope Valley, was originally home to the Piute Indians. Lancaster's origins as a settlement start with the Southern Pacific Railroad, which is believed to first use the name 'Lancaster', where a station house, locomotive watering facilities and section gang housing were built when the railroad laid track through the town's future location. By September 1876 Southern Pacific had completed the main line through the Antelope Valley, linking San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The origin of Lancaster's name is unclear, attributed variously to the surname of a railroad station clerk, the moniker given by railroad officials, or the former Pennsylvania home (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) of unknown settlers. Train service brought passengers through the water-stop-turned-community, which, with the help of promotional literature, attracted new settlers. The person credited with formally developing the town is Moses Langley Wicks, who in 1884 bought property from the railroad for $2.50 per acre, mapped out a town with streets and lots, and by September was advertising 160-acre tracts of land for $6 an acre.

 The following year, the Lancaster News started publication, making it the first weekly newspaper in the Antelope Valley. By 1890, Lancaster was bustling and booming, and thanks to adequate rainfall, farmers planted and sold thousands of acres of wheat and barley. The early '90s were years of heavy rainfall and so were prosperous ones for the farmers. Mr. Ward shipped the first carload of alfalfa. As many as two hundred horses and mules could be seen lined up on Tenth Street feeding or waiting their turn to unload the harvests. 1893  - Seems to have been a banner year. Sixty thousand acres skirting the foothills were planted to wheat and barley. Some 730 carloads were brought to Lancaster to be shipped to Los Angeles.

 1894 - Opened a series of dry years. The cattle were the first to suffer and were driven north in such numbers that the stage road was trodden with dust. The town was devastated by the decade-long drought that began in 1894, killing businesses and driving cattle north, though fortunes improved somewhat in 1898 following the nearby discoveries of gold and borax, the latter to become a widespread industrial chemical and household cleaner.... "

 Early 1894 before the drought hit , when Jue Joe made his trip to Sacramento might also have been a good time for Otto F. Brant to scope out the Mojave around the burgeoning town of Lancaster for real estate opportunities as well as opportunities to expand his Title insurance business into the area. The rail line lead directly out from Los Angeles into Lancaster and the Mojave.   Now is it really possible for Otto and Jue Joe to have met out in the desert on the outskirts of that Lancaster boomtown? ... maybe ... some hints come from the character of both men's subsequent actions.

 Jue Joe was the first Chinese farmer in the San Fernando valley farming potatoes in that hardscrabble earth of the Chatsworth area rather then in areas closer to Los Angeles or better irrigated. He looked for opportunities where others had not already gone.

 Later in his career after Otto Brant had become successful... his son David remembers how he met Harry Chandler, of the LA Times and how Harry Chandler tried to get Otto to go with him to the Colorado River Desert to tour the land there and go in with him on investing..... Otto declines Harry's invitation and decides to do a little exploring on his own ... "So I asked Mr Chandler ... "How did you and my father get together?" Well, he said that father was doing such a terrific job developing Title Insurance and Trust company, and " I heard he was a strong man.. so I just went down to his office and introduced myself and told him my story and offered to take him down"... And he said , "your father said to me... 'I,ll go down and take a look at it , but I don't want you there throwing the bull at me. So I'll go down alone.'"...

 And Otto doesn't just make a little trip of it ! David Brant writes "Mother, of course, was very frightened at the prospect of father going away out there in that desert... So father told her that he would leave word in Yuma as to where he was going; and if they wired his party, they'd send Indian runners out onto the desert and locate him and bring him back. So I remember that very well. And we all prayed. Mother got us all down on our hands and knees praying for a safe return. He came back with a couple of ollas. They were big balls made by the Indians. Made out of clay, they were unglazed, they were porous. They would bury those where there was a showing of water in the sand, had a neck just big enough to get your hand in with a cover on that , and they would cover those up with sand . They had some way of locating them. I don't know what that was but had one of those dug up and brought it up. We had it in our library on Figueroa Street.... Another thing he brought back- somebody had castrated a bull , and had taken his scrotum , his pouch and filled it full of sand and one thing and another so it was up like this. And they'd put a red baby ribbon on the top and filled it with cigars. Father used to embarrass my mother holding this thing out offering everybody cigars. He and Mr Chandler were always full of fun and joking with each other, even though things were terribly serious always......"

 So could Jue Joe have been out in the Mojave around Lancaster on his way back from Sacramento just getting a feel for the land and seeing if it was a good place to build his dream of a farm of his own? ... and did he just happen to meet another dreamer in Otto Brant just poking about in the desert and getting a feel for it's possiblities.?.. yes just maybe ! And what about hoboing it back to Los Angeles ?. Southern Pacific railroads of the time often had three classes of rail cars on their line .. plush first class cars for the wealthy , second class for regular travelers , and "emigrant" cars with the cheapest fares which were often little more then converted boxcars with bench seats.... Jue Joe of course would have emigrant car tickets... and Otto, of course, being the kind of guy he was would have no qualms of joining his new found friend in the converted boxcar back to LA... two unlikely dreamers "ho boing" back to Los Angeles after meeting in the desert ........

David Brant's memories of his father can be found here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Tale of Two Joes- Wong Joe and Jue Joe

One of the mysteries of our family oral history is how Jue Joe and Otto Brant became fast friends and how they met. Earlier in this blog I suspected that Jue Joe may have met Otto Brant being employed as his houseboy. It turns out there was probably a "houseboy" connection in how they became friends but it was not as simple as I first thought . Let me tell you the stories of two Chinese domestic servants in Los Angeles , Wong Joe and Jue Joe, and about my theories about how their meeting may have led to Jue Joe's friendship with Otto Brant .

Otto Brant arrived in Los Angeles during the mid 1880s during a major real estate boom. He had made a small fortune in drilling wells for water irrigation in Texas with his brother Byron and came to Los Angeles to try his hand in real estate investment. Later he and a partner would found the successful Title Insurance Company. He and his wife Susan  began a large family and early on hired a Chinese houseboy, Wong Joe . Wong Joe was an integral member of the Brant household and even played nurse "girl " to the Brant children .  Here are some Brant family photos courtesy of Harry Brant Chandler.

Otto Brant in his younger years .

Otto Brant family circa 1905

The Brant house in Los Angeles .

"Old Joe"- Wong Joe , Houseboy for the Brants
Behind the photo of Old Joe there is the following note :

...Wong "Joe"
Cook and nurse "girl" who raised the whole damn family and many of the neighbors Kids. ...

Wong Joe's history with the Brant family was a long and deep one that stretched for many years. He became a trusted member of the family household .

Meanwhile, Jue Joe arrived in Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley in 1893 after working on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Like Wong Joe, Jue Joe was employed as a houseboy. He was employed by Neils C, Johnson and Ann Wilden Johnson, pioneer homesteaders. Here is some information about the Johnsons and some pictures of Chatsworth and the San Fernando Valley in 1893 when Jue Joe arrived.

By the late 1880s most latecomers found it more difficult to find good farmland in 
the valley. Most were consigned to seek out marginal land in the surrounding hills 
for ranches and homesteads. Benjamin Porter had divided his “least desirable” 
property into thirteen separate shares. Granger Ranch (which Porter named after 
his ranch superintendent), the westernmost share and adjacent to Santa Susana 
State Historic Park, eventually became part of the town of Chatsworth Park. In 
1870, Niles and Wilden Johnson were among the first families to take advantage 
of the Federal Homestead Act, to settle in the San Fernando Valley. The Johnsons 
were applying for the land under the 1862 Homestead Act, which allowed an adult 
United States citizen or naturalized citizen the opportunity to acquire free up to a 
¼ section of a township (160 acres) in the public domain west of the Mississippi. 
The claimant had to have improved and lived on the property for at least five 
years, after which he paid a nominal filing fee; or was allowed to buy it after six 
months for $1.25 per acre. Settling first in Brown’s Canyon, in 1874 they 
relocated farther up the Santa Susana Pass Road and homesteaded in what is now 
the Indian Hills Estates. Over the next twenty years, several other early pioneer 
families established homesteads in the hills above Chatsworth, including the 
Coffeen, Glasscock, Graves, Gray, Thrasher, and Iverson. By damming streams 
and digging wells, these homesteaders were able to coerce crops from the rocky
soil. All of which contributed to the west valley’s economic growth, helping to 
establish the Chatsworth area as an independent agricultural community. With the 
opening of the Owens Valley Aqueduct in 1913, the City of Los Angeles offered 
to sell water to Chatsworth and other towns in the San Fernando Valley only if 
they would agree to be annexed. As a result, Chatsworth’s residents voted to give 
up their municipal independence to the growing megalopolis. With a steady supply 
of fresh water, the Chatsworth area would be noted for its orchards of oranges, 
lemons, grapes, and figs, and eventually develop thoroughbred horse ranches


Ann Willden Johnson 
Ann Willden Johnson defined what it meant to be a pioneer.  Born in Sheffield, England, in 1845, Ann moved to the United States as a small child.  Her family settled in a Mormon colony in Iowa and lived there for several years.  In 1851, the Willdens followed Brigham Young and his Mormon disciples to the Great Salt Lake in Utah.  Ann remained in Utah until she married Neils Christian Johnson and soon moved to California. 
The Johnsons lived around the greater Los Angels area, and ultimately settled in Chatsworth in 1874.  According to her autobiography, Our Pioneer Mother, as told to and recorded by her daughter, Leonora Johnson MacDonald, Ann was "the first white English-speaking woman in the San Fernando Valley."  Ann did all that she could to develop a community in Chatsworth.  In 1880, Ann assisted in establishing the first school in Chatsworth and served as the clerk for the Board of Trustees for several years.  Ann also devoted much of her time to work and worship at the Methodist Church and Sunday School.

Ann Willden Johnson: Chatsworth homesteader
On April 16, 1873, Ann Willden Johnson gave birth in her Chatsworth ranch house to the first white child born in the San Fernando Valley. Born in Sheffield, England, Johnson grew up in Salt Lake City. At 15, she married Neils Johnson. The couple came to California in 1867. The Johnsons lived in a two-room tent in Soledad Canyon, using one half for the family quarters and the other for a grocery store she helped run. In 1870, she and her husband settled in Chatsworth where they built a home. There, she held Sunday school and tutored her 10 children. She helped start the Chatsworth area's first school in 1880 and was clerk of the school board. She helped found a Christian congregation in the West Valley that met under the oak trees at her house until Pioneer Church was built in 1903. The structure is now located in Oakwood Memorial Church in Chatsworth. She died in 1920 at the age of 74.
When Jue Joe starting working for the Johnsons as their houseboy he was already 37 years old,  the Johnson's had 10 children . The two youngest and probably still in the house were Oliver age 8 and Norman age 9 , the next youngest was Emma  age 20 , and the oldest was Hanna age 32

Jue Joe  probably in his 40's 

Neils C. Johnson 

Ann Wilden Johnson 

Chatsworth 1893 

Chatsworth Rail Station 1893 

View of the San Fernando Valley  circa 1893 

I was interested to understand what the relationships between Chinese male domestic servants and their employers were like in 19th century Los Angeles. I discovered an excellent memoir of a Chinese domestic published in 1914 entitled  "Yellow Angel", written by  Mary Stewart Dagget. This book illustrates how the male Chinese domestics became not just servile background attendants in these households but became essential and indispensable members of the family who were trusted and  willing to speak their minds and even to offer their own opinions different from the caricature of a faceless domestic. These men had real character and spunk. The book also shows how in an era of Anti Chinese agitation and exclusion politics the close association between these men and their employers led the employers to develop strong pro -chinese  attitudes. Here are pictures of Ms. Dagget's Chinese servant .
The full text of this book is available for free on the internet archive as it's copyright has expired .

Chinese domestic servants were often proud of their employers and often eager to offer their employer's help to their Chinese  friends even without asking first! One of Sue Chang's friends is arrested  for gambling in a police raid on Los Angeles Chinatown's ubiquitous Fan Tan parlors. Sue Chang is quick to offer his friend his employer's help.

Chinese are a social people and Chinatowns have always served as a haven for area Chinese to meet with their countrymen and to develop friendships and speak their own language and eat and buy food and  clothing and supplies from China. In the 1890s Los Angeles Chinatown was booming and thriving despite the rabid anti Chinese agitation of the times. Railroad connections allowed Chinese working in the greater Southland area to descend on Chinatown on their days off . I am sure that Jue Joe took that opportunity to travel from Chatsworth where he was probably the only Chinese man in the area to Chinatown Los Angeles on his days off.

Here are a few views of Los Angeles Chinatown in the 1890s.

I think that Jue Joe probably met Wong Joe in LA's Chinatown . They discussed who their employers were and what they did. Jue Joe probably told Wong Joe that his dreams were not to remain as a houseboy forever but  to lease land and start farming potatoes so he could make enough money to go back to China . He probably mentioned to Wong Joe that he was looking for white landowners who might be willing to lease land for farming. Wong Joe probably mentioned that his boss ,Otto Brant was a big time real estate guy and could probably help Jue Joe with a farming land lease and offered to set up a meeting between Otto and Jue Joe. By this time Jue Joe had probably also accumulated a fair amount of money and kept it in the bank.  Like  other Chinese of the times he was beginning to thrive despite the difficulties of the times . Carey McWillams in his book , "Southern California -An Island on the Land", 1944  page 93. quotes a vistor to Southern California in 1898 :"John Chinaman is forging ahead rapidly in this country. The Chinese are doing the servant's work in hotels, boarding houses, private families , and on the farms they are leasing land, raising an immense quantity of vegetables, and have a monopoly on the huckster business (door to door vegetable sales ).  It makes a New England man squirm to see them in lines at banks, depositing  money and handling gold in quantities as easily and intelligently as if they were Wall Street brokers.... "

Jue Joe probably jumped at the opportunity of meeting Otto Brant . He was an unconventional man who throughout his life although speaking broken English and being illiterate was able to make friendships with  powerful white men of the time , and forge relationships that would last decades. Jue Joe and Otto when they met were around the same age and although of vastly different life experiences and cultures were  probably able to feel a common bond. They were both dreamers with a vision for big things for the future in their own ways.  Otto at the time was probably interested in a man he could trust to use as a "straw man" in clearing of title for clients in his new Title insurance business and who was also willing to put up some of his own money for transactions  and Jue Joe was in need of Otto's help to arrange for his leasing of land to start his potato farming business . I think it was the beginning of a  strong relationship and friendship that would last until Otto's death in 1922.

Ps. a note on the name  "Joe" . Jew Joe's real Chinese name is Jew Pan Soong  in Cantonese. Chinese use the family name or surname first and the given name last. So Jew Joe's surname would be Jew and Wong Joe's surname was Wong .
Almost all Chinese given or personal names have two syllables, the first syllable would often change after a person married. Thus Jew Joe's  Cantonese name before marriage was Jew But Soong and became Jew Pan Soong after marriage. Sometimes Chinese would shorten their given name and use only the last sylllable, thus Jew Joe would say that his Chinese name was Jew Soong.  "Joe" was most likely an American personal name that he chose for himself after living here in the early years and then using on his first identification certificate.  Many white folks would use Joe , or  John, or Charlie in speaking with Chinese rather then using the Chinese's real given names which were difficult and hard to pronounce. Chinese often adopted these personal names used by the whites as their official given names on legal documents .This was especially true for those like Jew Joe and Wong Joe who had immigrated before stringent Exclusion acts were passed which required careful documentation of complete Chinese names on immigration documents.. In his later immigration documents Jew Joe always speaks of " Jew Joe " as the name by which he  is known by the Americans. Likewise for Wong, Joe would not be his real Chinese name but an American nickname he chose for himself

Friday, July 25, 2014

Jew Joe Real Estate Transaction 1901

My late father was a real estate appraiser working for LA County and at one time looked at historic grant deeds archived in the LA county recorder office and saw multiple deeds with the name Jew Joe dating from the time before Jew Joe went back to China in 1902. (Jew Joe  used Jew instead of Jue as the English spelling of our surname at  that time ). My father told me that Jew Joe had told my grandfather,San Tong,that Otto Brant, Title Insurance Company co owner, had Jew Joe sign real estate deeds for him.  I asked my Auntie Soo Yin  about this and she confirmed this and had the following comments:

1.  Squatters and color of title:  My father San Tong told me that in the 1890s title insurance to real property in SoCal was not yet a tradition practiced by landowners; most folks were a bit skeptical about the need to insure.  But Otto Brant was very deep thinking, and seeing far ahead of the curve, he knew that landowners would soon find themselves in great need of insuring their ownerships and clearing color of title.  "During this period of time," said San Tong, landowners were having so much trouble with "squatters" moving onto their property and claiming title.  This is why Otto had his friend Thompson, who was a saloon bouncer and who was a big, rough-looking guy, remove squatters off disputed lands by physical force if necessary."  (Later, Thompson became a partner with Jue Joe in the saloon located at 2nd and Broadway.)  At once landowners made a beeline for Otto's Title Insurance and Trust Co. and his business grew by leaps, as he knew it would.  Otto had the last laugh.   

2.  Straw man:  San Tong had said that Jue Joe's name was used on many of Otto's deeds, but he did not say that Jue Joe had any direct involvement in negotiating the transactions.  Otto handled all the details of land transactions, and it was a win-win situation for both Otto and Jue Joe. Otto Brant and Jue Joe were like equal friends, according to Ah Gung.  I do know that Otto used to ask Jue Joe for loans in order to finance his real estate ventures and to be his "straw man" whenever needed, and Jue Joe was always glad to oblige.  Also, Jue Joe told Ah Gung that everything he knew about American business he had learned from Otto; this good friend was Jue Joe's mentor.  I can see why the two men got along so well, they were both modest men.  (Jue Joe had met Thompson, his partner in the Saloon, through Otto Brant, too).

My son Robert who is in the real estate business had this theory of how Otto Brant used Jew Joe in his real estate transactions.  Robert has a theory that at the time Otto formed the Title insurance company , there were many properties in Los Angeles that had contested title with several  "owners" claiming to have the right to sell the property . Let us say his company was involved in providing potential buyers of the property with title insurance . One of the primary functions of the Title insurance company would be to search records and establish title before sales and  Otto would have found  quite a few of these properties.   The various owners claiming title would not be able to sell the property outright . They could of course sue each other and try to establish who had real title  and be able to sell but perhaps  Otto could offer a much simpler  solution .  These owners rather then fighting about who really owned the property  could all agree to sell out their  title to  one man each  at a percentage of the total  price of the sale .Since Otto would have researched these properties  thoroughly he could  then be sure that he had all the  real possible property owners in the deal . He could then broker a deal , and provide  title insurance to the single new buyer who had clear title .  That new buyer " straw man "  would not be involved in negotiating the deal at all and just  appear in person  to sign documents  and the entire deal could be arranged by  Otto ,  In fact the "straw man " could in fact loan or put up his own money for the deal with the agreement that once the deal was completed  and clear title was established that land could then be sold at a substantial profit to a new buyer  waiting in the wings who wanted to buy the property in the first place . The sale of the land  from the straw owner to the new owner would , promptly by arranged  by Otto  and then the loan would be repaid with interest to the "straw man " quickly ... Such an arrangement would require a "straw man " with whom  Otto had extreme confidence in and  the agreement especially if a verbal one would  really need to be  one of trust and mutual  benefit .

What evidence is there that this arrangement between Otto Brant and Jew Joe actually occurred ?

Rancho Portero de Felipe Lugo was one of the  large Mexican land grants that was located in the current city of El Monte near Los Angeles. The history of this Rancho and it's subsequent sale and subdivision and owners can be found here.   The Rancho was originally subdivided in the Los Angeles land boom of  the late 1880s. Here is an ad of the original subdivision by E. J. Baldwin in 1887 .

Here is  page 14 of the Los Angeles Herald , on Thursday Morning , August 1, 1901 .
At the time family oral history has Jew Joe farming potatoes in Chatsworth on leased land. There is no family oral history that he owned land at this time . Yet on this date on the list of real estate transfers in the paper, Jew Joe is listed as selling land to Sophronia A. Bliss , in particular -Part Lot 2, blk F, of sub. of Ro. Potrero de Felipe Lugo .

Did Jew Joe buy and accept title to this land some time before and then sell and transfer the title to a new owner to help his friend, Otto Brant ? By the way the 10.00 noted after the property is the amount of "consideration"for the property paid by the buyer to the seller and is noted in the official grant deeds. When the number is low such as 10 dollars in this case, this does not actually reflect the sale price of the property which does not have always have to be included in the newly recorded grant deed. "

A deed must include a recital of consideration. In most instances, a recital of nominal consideration (for example, Ten Dollars) is sufficient. The actual consideration paid for the real property must be disclosed to local and /or state tax departments for tax purposes. Real property may be conveyed as a gift, in which case no actual monetary consideration is being exchanged for the real property. There are special circumstances in which the actual sales price must be inserted, as in the case of a deed in which the grantor is acting in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of the owner of the real property"

Van Nuys Ranch Memories

A ranch and it's buildings are not just simple wooden structures but repositories of cherished memories held throughout decades of time by those who lived there. Here are just a sampling of some of the rich family memories of this place . Although we no longer live there we are happy that the buildings still stand and help us to remember....

Auntie Soo Jan :

I recall moving from the old farm house that had asparagus pushing up through the floors and termite invasions every spring over to the big house when I was about 9 years old, which would be 1947 or so. The house was built soon after World War Two was over. There were 3 bedrooms downstairs and 4 bedrooms upstairs. Posie, Jack and Joan occupied the downstairs, while my Mom and Dad, Guy, myself had our own bedrooms, then Pingy and Soo-Yin shared the last one. Soo-Yin was just a toddler. I don’t recall Dorothy and Corrine ever living there, but they did come to visit. I thought that Dorothy lived in a house in San Fernando because I remember visiting there and playing with a little girl down the street until her mother forbade her to play with an oriental (remember that this was right after the War). Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Jack left the big house when he went away to college. Joan moved to her own house when she married Richard. After they left, Guy and I moved downstairs and Pingy and Soo-Yin had their own rooms upstairs. My job was to take care of Posie’s needs, like doing her hair and driving her around for her errands. She loved to go out every day to Van Nuys for shopping and she’d just buy one little thing so that she could go again the next day for her outing

Auntie Soo Yin:
In our new house I remember us kids skating on the flat rooftop above the indoor porch when our parents weren't home. There were no barriers to catch us if we were unable to stop at the roof's edge. Brother Guy would dare us to see how far we could skate to the edge. It was fun and exciting to do something we weren't suppose to do.
 I loved our homestead. Our ranch was self-sustaining. We had our own gas pump, an auto- and repair shop, fruit trees of nectarines, oranges, pears, apricots, lemons, figs, walnuts, etc. We grew strawberries, grapes, corn, and vegetables of all kind. Behind the big red barn that faces Vanowen St. we had a large chicken coop. It was filled with hens and one rooster (probably purchased from Uncle Ed's Holly Hatchery or Albert Zoraster's hatchery). The rooster was a trip. During eclipse he would go to sleep, then wake up to sunlight and crow. When he grew old he got day and night all messed up and crowed at the wrong times. We raised a pheasant in the coop, too. Then San Tong got a bright idea. In addition to fresh eggs and chicken meat, we could have delicious squab meals too. So he threw feed onto the floor of the coop and all the stray pigeons flew into the lair. Immediately he covered its top with chicken wire. San Tong had wooden nests built from floor to ceiling in the coop, the lower half was for the hens, and the upper half was for the pigeons--hundreds.
 As a toddler I would awaken from a nap, then my mother would take me out to see brother Jack's Morgan horse "Thunder," in a stable. I got to pet Thunder's nose and feed him some straw. I loved horses from then on. Each Spring our dog Bingo always found stray kittens born on our ranch. We would carry the kittens home in a field box, then divvy them up--one for each sibling. Brother Jack had a childhood friend, Jack White, with whom he went riding and exploring with. One day Thunder got stuck in quicksand and it took 5 Mexicans to pull the horse to safety.
 I loved Jack White's parents. Mrs. White was like Mrs. Santa Claus. She was plump and jolly, gray-haired, and blew a hardy laugh as she chugged up our driveway in her Model-T truck. At X-mas time she gave us wonderful storybooks, and when we visited her house on De Celis dirt road, she had the most amazing doll collection for you to see. They were a collector's dream.
 David Frazer was brother Guy's childhood friend. And David had a perky horse named "Brandy," which prompted Guy to press our father for a horse too. When he got Senator, he and David went horseback riding together. The Frazers lived across the street from us on Vanowen St., and I loved playing with their Red Settler dog, "Rafferty." Rafferty was so gentle and had the personality of "Marmaduke," a cartoon character. In the evenings David Frazer and other friends came to play football with Guy on our big front lawn.
On hot Summer evenings we'd have BBQ dinner in our outdoor bathhouse, which had a firepit, picnic table and benches, and Leong Shee's original black iron stove to cook on. We'd get our swimsuits out from lockers in the bathhouse, go for a swim in the pool, then shower in the stalls with toilets that San Tong had built. Those were family moments that San Tong enjoyed. He could balance a chair on one leg in his open palm and tread across the deep end of our pool. Jack was a champion gymnist in school, and he balanced me on his open palm, me on one foot with my hands folded across my chest. I liked doing that.

I think Dorothy and Corrine lived with us in the big new house--only for a short while before Corrine married Lansing, and before Dorothy left for school. Corrine had the bedroom next to Posie's because, as a child, I used to visit her bedroom so that she'd dab perfume behind my ears. She always had fancy perfumes. And she would insist that her mother wear silk stockings whenever Lansing came courting. Dorothy lived in the bedroom near Corrine's that was called the "den." When she was in a good mood I would ask her politely for a piece of candy. I knew that she always had candy in her bedroom. Later, her den room became Jack's, then Guy's becroom. And Corrine's room became Joan's, then Soo-Jan's bedroom. I think in the very early years Jack and Joan shared a bedroom upstairs (the one later to be Soo-Jan's, then Pingileen's, in which a window opened onto the roof of our indoor porch). And Soo-Jan and Guy shared a bedroom next door, the one that looked out to the front lawn. After our aunts moved away we got rooms to ourselves like in musical chairs.

Bob Yen ( My cousin and son of  my late Auntie Joan ) who like  me played at the ranch in our childhood:

I remember the excitement I felt every summer when, after a 10 hour drive through the desert, we’d finally arrive at the tall gates to the Ranch: the fence posts made from railroad ties, the smell of tall eucalyptus, the crunch of gravel under the tires as we drove toward the house, past the cottage, the barns, the gas pump and school house-- closer to the weeks of adventure that we had been anticipating all year with our young aunts, uncles and cousins.

 I remember the giant tortoise shell in the pool cabana, the turtles and fish my mother hand painted on the bottom of the swimming pool; climbing the trees on the northern boundary and throwing acorns at passing cars.

 I remember standing at the fence to the west of the house, calling to the black bull as the sun set in the distance and a cool breeze crossed my face.

 I remember the sound of my shoes on the metal grate by the side door--and just inside-- the smell of Ah Gung’s Stetsons and work gloves in the closet; the creak of the wooden stairs that led from the dining hall and its tall black, shaker chairs, up to Ah Gung’s and Ah Po’s bedroom.

 I remember the coolness of the moss by the front door and the smell of summer gardenias; the weight of the front door carved with a Chinese character and the lushness of the wine carpet in the living room.

 I remember the hammered iron rails on the stairway, and the way the banana tree looked through the round window against the blue sky at the top of the landing.

 I remember the rough feel of cracked leather on Ah Gung’s chair in the living room, and how smooth and soft the purple, silk tassels were on Ah Po’s vanity table upstairs as I laid on my back and tied them in knots.

 But as much as anything, I remember the softness of Ah Gung’s voice, and the roughness of his hands touching my face as he called my name. I miss it-- the innocence of that place and time--The Ranch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Historic Redwood Barns-Jue Joe Van Nuys Ranch

I recently discovered that the  Jue Joe Van Nuys Ranch  has been mentioned as a property eligible for historic preservation in  "Survey LA Chinese American Historic Context Statement,  City of Los Angeles Department  of City Planning, Office of Historic Resources " September 2013
The full text of this excellent survey of historic Chinese American  sites in the Los Angeles area can be found in this  PDF file.
On page 13 there is this statement :
 "Extant examples of Chinese American owned farms are likely to be extremely rare. The sole example discovered thus far is the Jue Joe Ranch (16608 Vanowen Boulevard), which was submitted to SurveyLA‟s website. The property includes a ranch style house constructed in 1941 with several adjacent outbuildings, consistent with eligibility criteria for the farm house property type developed in SurveyLA‟s Industrial Context."

Our family is extremely pleased that the property's historic significance is being recognized and I wanted to provide some additional  background on some of the historic farm buildings which still exist on the property.

Here is a picture of the main barn of the property , the adjacent car port and packing shed as they exist today.  Click on the picture to enlarge.

And here is a side view.

Here is an aerial view of the farm from the old days where the barn and the car port and  packing shed can be seen circa the  late 1940's .

Here courtesy of  my Auntie Soo Yin is some information about these structures, how they were used , and memories of what life was like on the farm. Thanks so much Auntie Soo Yin ! You have made these old buildings come alive for all of us ! ps. "Ah Gung" refers to  San Tong Jue , my grandfather and son of Jue Joe, and my aunt's father. My grandfather San Tong built the large ranch house in the mid 1940's which is the most modern of the ranch structures and renamed the Van Nuys Ranch the Jue Joe Ranch in honor of his father.

The Van Nuys ranch was purchased in 1920 or 1919. The entire Jue Joe property was originally 300 acres (the old Dickey ranch).  It started from Vanowen Street and ran southward to Haynes Street.  And it ran east to west from Hayvenhurst to Balboa Blvd.  Because the first structure that Jue Joe built on his land was the big barn, according to Auntie Joan, this makes the big barn around 95-years of age.  It served as a stable for Jue Joe's forty (40) working horses.  Inside the big barn, and located to the right side, was a small room with a door that opened onto the stable area (the rest of the interior barn).  This room was Jue Joe's sleeping quarter before he built his cabin with a dirt floor.  This sleeping quarter in the big barn later housed a Mexican family for awhile; not sure if it was Ritchie Valens' family, but I know that they lived on the ranch for awhile, so it could be. 

(Ritchie Valens lived with his father who was a musician until his father died.  At around 10 or 11-years of age he came to live with Connie and Ramon for about 4 to 5 years or so.  One day he threw a rock at a large beehive on the ranch and stirred up wildly angry bees, Ah Gung had to shut down farm operations for 3 days as a result, and Connie soon afterwards farmed Ritchie out to relatives.  Later, they moved to Pacoima, I think, or Sylmar.  I remember that we always hid Ramon in a small bathroom inside our big house whenever the immigration authorities came with paddy wagon looking for him.  Our big ranch house was designed by architect George Chapman and it had 3 bathrooms (the smallest one proved very useful in more ways than one); 

The small sleeping quarter inside the big barn had another door that opened into an even smaller room that Jue Joe used as a kitchen area; it was camp-style:  A hotplate set on top of field crates, very basic and primitive.  This kitchen was later used by the Braceros and their families making tortillas for lunch in the same basic way.  There was a door in that tiny kitchen that opened onto a wide gravel pathway, across which stood the packinghouse.  Later, the tiny kitchen became a storage area where your Dad and Auntie Joan's saddles were stored, and Uncle Guy's too.  This was where Auntie Pingileen and I found your Dad's baby stroller and layette (which was later used for Jimmy and Ming's births). 

The big barn and the packing house are separate structures that are not connected to each other.  All of Jue Joe's original structures were made of Redwood, and this includes the original packinghouse.  This area around the big barn and packinghouse was a beehive of human activity:  You heard chatter in the Spanish language, machines humming as they sheared off stumps of asparagus and as roller belts moved asparagus down an assembly line for sorting and packing; you smelled homemade tortillas and beans wafting from the tiny kitchen in the big barn, and our dog Bingo barking as he went from person to person greeting his old friends.  There were other Redwood structures, too, that were torn down after we moved off the land.  Too bad.  These structures have such stories to tell.       

Uncle Ed's brother Rick had said, "...the big barn is very rare because it is the only original Redwood barn left in the San Fernando Valley, and if it has not yet been declared a historic structure, it really should be." 

 I noticed that the roofs on the big barn and on the packinghouse had been restored using new material.  The original roof covering on the big barn was black-tarred sheet covering.  Not sure whether the original packinghouse had black-tarred sheet covering, too, or had wooden shingles like the carport that it was connected to. 

I do not know whether the packinghouse was built at the same time that the big barn was built.  I can only guess that it might have been built at the same time, or shortly afterwards, as the ranch was intended to be a working farm.  In an adjacent structure that was connected to the packinghouse there were horse's yokes and bridle gear that hung on its tall redwood walls, yokes that Jue Joe's teams of horses wore to haul heavy wagons and farm plows down his fields.  That barn was partially burned in later years, and after we moved off the ranch, it was torn down.   
In your photo the structure to the right of the big barn was a carport.  You could park 2 cars in the carport or drive right through it to park beside Ah Gung's big ranch house; you would then enter the house through the kitchen's side-door.   The carport was actually connected to the packinghouse that is situated to the left of the carport, behind the big barn; the roof of the carport is slightly higher than the packinghouse, too.  And the carport's roof originally had wooden shingles.  

I think the carport might have been added shortly after the big barn and packinghouse was built, but I do not know exactly when, or whether it was built by Jue Joe or by Ah Gung.  The age of the Redwood panels and rusty nails on it looked like it could have been very close in time to the big barn and packinghouse.  I would guess that the carport was built by Jue Joe because Ah Gung was living in Los Angeles and moved to the ranch at a later date.  I remember a telephone pole standing to the right of the carport's side, too.  One day Ah Gung told me not to carve on the pole or paint on the floor of the carport, as I had started to do as a kid, because "...these are valuable Redwood materials, very old, and you will damage them."   

I remember that the door frames of the 3 connecting structures--carport, packinghouse, and barn that stored crates of asparagus ready to be transported to market (this barn opened onto the seed-washing basin)--were built Chinese style, or maybe that's how door frames were built in the late 19th century:  The bottoms of the door frames had a raised block of wood that you stepped over in order to enter the rooms.  It was to keep rain water out. 

On our operating farm some of the families that were not living in the migrant camps, which were spread across the Valley, lived on our ranch: in the big barn, Jue Joe's cabin or Posie's cottage (Auntie Soo-Jan recalled that a Thai family lived in Posie's cottage for short awhile).  There was a gypsy family that worked one or two seasons on our ranch and they set up their campsite on the Hayvenhurst property, according to Ah Gung.  And, of course, wino Mikey lived in the smaller horse's stable that was in a pasture located next to the big house, on its west side.  He worked one season on the ranch and then wouldn't leave.  He was homeless so Ah Gung let him stay so long as he didn't harm us kids. 

The packinghouse was so active.  There was Shorty always working at the shearing blades, cutting stumps off, packing asparagus in crates, and hammering the crates shut almost faster than you could blink, he worked so fast.  It was like watching an artist perform.  Shorty worked for Jue Joe, then Ah Gung, and finally your Dad.  Connie Valenzuela (Ritchie Valens' mother) worked in the packinghouse, too, she sorted and graded asparagus shoots as they moved by conveyor belt down an assembly line.  She always wore a headscarf when she was working.  I don't know where Ramon worked, probably in the produce-storage barn stacking crates from floor to ceiling driving a forklift.  I remember their 2 young daughters, little Connie and Irma, who were very young, maybe 4 and 5-years old, scampering about. 

Farming operations eventually moved from Van Nuys to Saugus in the 1950's . According to Auntie Soo-Yin :
In the 1950s Ah Gung sold 200 acres of the ranch to Southwest Properties for residential development (your parent's first Rubio house was part of that development).  Family farms were giving way to urbanization and Ah Gung could see no future for farms in the Valley.  So he was in the process of moving farm operations to Saugus and training your Dad to take over the reins there. 

Here is a picture of the redwood main barn on the abandoned site of the Saugus farm which was discovered by my cousin Michael. More information about this discovery is here. 

Here is a film made by my late father of the family asparagus farming operations in Saugus in the 1950s. Asparagus farming was our family business since Jue Joe established the business in 1919 until the late 1950s.  

Leong Shee's "Chinese Deeds" 1906

In 1906 when my great grandmother left China to come to America with her two young boys , she brought with her what she called "deeds" to land or houses that Jue Joe owned in China. These documents were preserved by my late Aunt Joan Jue Yen who gave them to my son Robert. Recently with the help of my nephew Nick we have been able to get some of these documents translated and my Auntie Soo-Yin has been able to supply additional commentary as to their meaning.

Here is a translation courtesy of my nephew Nick's friend and business associate in China ... 

"These were written in the vernacular Chinese, so I can not understand what is saying, sorry.

I can only see the main idea:

File 1, can not understand absolutely, it's some kind of blank receipt(proof for receipt of money),without actual amount.

File 2:
A contact of sell house
Zhao Jianxian's father left him a house, and he sell the house to Zhao WeiYue, price of the house is 380.72 silver dollar(old Chinese currency), Zhao weiyue paid
50 silver dollar as deposit, balance amount need to be paid in the 4th lunar month of 1903.
If the seller refused to handle the contract, seller need to pay buyer double deposit(equals 100 silver dollar); if the buyer refused to handle the contract, buyer can not
take back the deposit(50 silver dollar).
The contact was signed on the 10th day of the first lunar month in 1903.

File 3:
A contract of sell graveyard
Ou Tianxi's grandpa left have a graveyard, he want to give it to his relatives, but did not find
suitable relative. He got the information tha Zhao Jiye(live in Shanjiang town) need graveyard. They both agreed the price 15 silver dollar.
Ou Tianxi will clean up the graveyard before handle it to Zhao jiye.
Third party Ou Tianlu written the contract for Ou Tianxi.
The contract date is October 1902. "

Here are my  Auntie Soo Yin's comments 

 Hi Family,

You're all doing such a great job...these documents are a fabulous treasure!!!  I am so glad that Auntie Joan kept them all these years and had passed them on to Robert.  My siblings and I knew that Leong Shee (Posie) had carried these legal papers with her when she left Sum Gong Village for Los Angeles, traveling with Ah Gung and San You.  But I didn't know that there were so many docs...about 100!!! 
Posie was smart to bring these docs to America because it gives our family of today an unbroken continuity of time winging our lives back to Jue Joe's home in China, and to the beginning of our clan.  These Chinese documents are of historical importance to us all.  I'm amazed that they are in such excellent condition, too.  When we moved from the Jue Joe Ranch all of Posie's belongings that had remained with us were given to Auntie Joan,
who was very close to Posie.  And all of Jue Joe's possessions that could be removed from the Ranch were given to Jack Sr. because he was close to Jue Joe; especially, Ah Gung wanted Jack Sr. to have the famous Colt.45 that Jue Joe loved.  My mother Ping and I were removing contents from the iron safe in Ah Gung's office upstairs in the Big House, sorting things to pack for the move from the Ranch. 
I lifted the Colt.45 off a tray in the safe and found the Chinese papers folded up as you all see in the photos.  My mother told me that they were deeds and other transactions, and there were also astrological birth charts that Jue Joe had made back in China for Jack Sr., Joan, Soo-Jan and Guy when each of them were born.  Jue Joe believed in astrology and said to Ah Gung that the Chinese astrologers in pre-communist
China could produce the most accurate; their secrets were passed down from son to son for generations.  I remember seeing Jack Sr.'s Chinese name on his chart, and seeing Uncle Guy's Chinese name, too.  My mother translated Uncle Guy's chart for me, and to this day, I am amazed at how accurate the predictions were!  It said that Guy would experience financial struggle in the early part of his life, he would marry
and have two sons, and at age 50 there would be a widowhood, there would also be a remarriage, and after age 50 he would know peace and serenity.  Uncle Guy died at age 49, but age 50 according to Chinese calculation.  Uncle Guy had one land deed that he had framed in his home; I'm sure Auntie Estelle still has it.  If he didn't have it, then Auntie Soo-Jan might have it.   
File #1:  Jue Joe began to send money to Leong Shee in China when Ah Gung was nine-years old and when Leong Shee discovered that Jue Joe was still alive.  Perhaps this is a receipt for one of the transactions.  Or it could be a receipt for a large amount of money sent to Leong Shee for 1st Class ship's passage to America.  Also, Leong Shee was a smart and capable farmer and she rented portions of the land to tenant farmers who then
paid her in rice yields, rather than pay her in's like share-cropping.  Ah Gung told me that she grew wealthy by this method.  Zhao Wei Yue might be one of Jue Joe's several names or it could be Jue Joe's youngest brother whom we know as "Jue Yao."  Or it could even be a 3rd straw be a go-between.  Very interesting that Robert's name is also "Weiyue."    

File #2:  This sales transaction made in the 4th lunar month of 1903 could be for the house that San You was born in.  Jue Joe returned to marry in Leong Shee in 1902, and Ah Gung said that his older brother San You was born in Jue Joe's 1st home, not the big house that Ah Gung was born in.  So Jue Joe must have purchased the first house just before San You was born.  Later, he purchased vacant land at the end of a track and built his ranch-style home and family compound in which San Tong was born in 1905 and in which his immediate relatives shared living
space.  The new lot was at the eastern end of the village and the area was pretty undeveloped at the time except for a couple of houses.  When Auntie Pingileen and I visited the home in 1987 it still was located at the eastern fringe, but with a few more developed homes and street-side kiosks.  There was still open space looking eastward toward Kieu Shan (mountain) beyond Jue Joe's home..."4th row in the 4th house from a stone road (now aged and more like a dirt road)."
I don't know who Zhao Jianxian is....I think Zhao Jianxian was probably a seller not connected to our immediate family , but I think Zhao Weiyue, the buyer, is Jue Joe's married name.  I think a lunar month begins in February, if so, then the contract was signed on February 10, 1903, and San You (Uncle Sam) was born on August 17th of that year. 

File #3:  I think this transaction to purchase a gravesite was for the reburial of Jue Joe's father Leong Kao.  He died a pauper and at a young age from diabetes, I think.  Ah Gung had said that when Jue Joe returned to Sum Gong the first matter to take care of was proper respect for father, then mother.  I kind of remember something about a new gravesite, and although Lee Shee (Jue Joe's mother) had died before Ah Gung was born, it is more likely that Jue Joe's father would receive the higher honor of reburial.  In our old family album there is a photo of Leong Kao's gravesite; the picture was deteriorating and very dark, it was a small mound with Chinese characters written on stone atop the mound.  Ah Gung had taken the photograph in 1937 when he returned to China to marry my mother Ping.  Zhao Jiye might be a "relationship name" used to address Jue Joe, showing him respect as an elder distant relative.  The name Jiye might be a form of respect that Tianxi, the gravesite seller, used in deference to Jue Joe's reverence for his father. 

The above comments on the Files are conjecture on my part, so I may very well be wrong.  But I hope that my thoughts give you more leads in solving the mysteries of our Jue family saga.   Destiny is for sure helping us all to develop a full and whole picture of the Jue story for all generations to come! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Jue Joe Returns to America-Ship's Manifest 1906

Recently  I have been able to locate Jew Joe's record on the ship's manifest of the SS Mongolia on which he returned alone to America from China on January 26, 1906 after staying in China for four years, getting married and fathering two sons.  He was 49 years old at the time .(Jue Joe later changed the English spelling of our surname from Jew to Jue ).
The record states that his surname is Jew and primary name is Joe ,  born September 26, 1856 in Sam Kong, San Ning China . He returns as a laborer . He has an identifying "tumor on right eye".  His destination is Los Angeles, CA.

Click the picture of the record on this link and you can  zoom and manipulate the record . Look at line 29 .
Jue Joe's record on 1906 Ship Manifest

Here is a previous post that explains how  Jew Joe returned as  a "returning laborer" even though his  immigration should have been blocked by the existing discriminatory immigration laws of the time .
He must have had some "friends in high places, " who convinced the immigration authorities to "land him ". Interestingly, after return to the United States , Jue Joe applies and receives a duplicate of his original identification certificate required of all Chinese in the United States that he does not have with him on return . Yet on the ship manifest a return certificate number is listed that does not match the number of his original certificate.  I suspect all these issues would have caused him to be sent back to China and not allowed entry but for the intervention of  his "friends in high places ".